Eve of Eternity
Chapter 3: White Roses
Sabine giggled. Her fiancé looked so serious as he balanced his weight above her on the couch and stroked her hair with one hand while running a white rose over her lips with the other. The velvet petals on her skin quieted her. He was trying to be romantic and thoughtful, but the postures and symbolism were so strong it was like making out with a rulebook. There was almost no humanity in it at all. His piercing blue eyes were perfectly framed by his slicked back blonde hair and he was quite attractive with his square jaw and strong cheekbones, but she couldn’t help a nervous giggle. The rose left a sweet scent lingering on her lips and she smiled at him, silently apologizing. He carefully removed his jacket and gloves, hanging them beside the table before returning to her side and gently, deliberately, placing cool lips on her cheek.
“I love you, Sabine. Say that you love me, that you’ll belong to me.”
She couldn’t help the laughter as it burst forth, couldn’t bite it back even when she saw the hurt and confusion in his eyes. His thin lips set into the hard lines she had grown accustomed to seeing during their arguments and he sat up stiffly, watching her lying against the pillows like an eagle watching the ground for signs of prey.
“I’m sorry, Bertran,” she said. She meant it, too. It wasn’t that she thought this was funny; she just got so nervous in situations like this. “I didn’t mean to laugh. Everything is just so formal between us right now. It’s like you want me to say – what you said – like it’s part of some ritual. I want to tell you how I feel about you when I’m ready, not before. But the way you keep setting up these situations and then asking me to say it, it’s so predictable. Why does it matter so much?”
Bertran’s icy blue eyes shot through her and she flinched. She had never been afraid of him, but there were many things she didn’t know. He had the right to be insecure about her love; he was at least twice her age and they were marrying for political reasons as much as romantic ones. When he had first brought up marriage nearly a year ago, she had openly rejected him, but he had been persistent, and charming, and far more endearing than any man she had ever met before. He talked to her like an adult and respected her opinions, unlike the rest of the court and even her father. Young women were not expected to participate in politics and Sabine still scandalized the court with her insistence on assisting her father in ruling the nation of Wendigo at nineteen years of age. Normally a person had to be at least twenty-one to claim their title, but she was already ruling to some degree and many people thought she was too young for the responsibility.
She wondered if his sudden concern had to do with the fainting spell the day before. She worried about it as well. She remembered collapsing in the hallway outside her rooms and a flash of hazel eyes, and then she had woken up in her own bed.
Had someone seen her in the hallways and carried her to her bed? If it were a servant, they would have stayed around to make sure she was all right but her father said she was alone when he found her. And if it wasn’t a servant, how did the person with the hazel eyes get into her room to carry her there? It was troubling. No wonder Bertran was concerned, but he asked this every time they talked, not just this time. He was so predictable.
The first thing he always did, before he even took off his gloves, was to give her a rose and stroke the petals across her lips. Warm, fuzzy happiness always followed this gesture and she wasn’t complaining, but a little variety would be nice now and then. She couldn’t say what he wanted, though, couldn’t say she loved him and belonged to him. She belonged to no one and even though her body craved his caresses, she didn’t want to fully commit herself until the wedding, even though the wedding was over a year away and the engagement hadn’t even been announced. She was just so young, it seemed. How could a nineteen-year-old know what love felt like?
“Sabine, why is this a joke to you?”
Bertran’s sharp question brought her back to reality abruptly. She hadn’t been able to join her army ever since she had become engaged and she missed it dearly. Perhaps that was why she was starting to resent Bertran and the engagement that never seemed to end. She just wanted to be married and done with it so she could go back to her life and her friends. She didn’t want to acknowledge that damned voice in her head that warned her that nothing would ever be the same once she married, that Bertran would be far stricter than her father when it came to planning military operations. He would certainly never consider letting her participate in one.
“It’s not, I’m sorry.” She lifted her eyebrows and pulled her cheeks back in an expression of remorse she had perfected in front of the mirror as a child. Bertran sighed as though the look fooled him and she was grateful for the years of practice.
“Sweetheart, I know that you are several years younger than me, but you’re old enough to be in love, and old enough to get married. Other women your age are experiencing the same emotions and taking them seriously. Why can’t you?”
She bit her lip and lowered her eyes. She hated it when he compared her to the other girls her age. They all seemed to know exactly what to do in these situations but no matter how many questions she asked, she could never understand what they were talking about. They spent days on end shopping for the perfect accessory to the perfect dress, and seemed to have nothing in their heads except endless advice on how to get compliments from guys.
Her entire life, Sabine had despised them and considered them enemies to females everywhere, but now that she had a man of her own, she desperately wanted their help. She could only listen to stories of romance and kissing and hand holding with envy, unable to replicate the stories in her own life. Kissing Bertran, touching him, was wonderful, but she would rather be on a battle ship somewhere strategizing and taking over planets in the Unclaimed Quadrant. Romance was nice, but fighting was everything to her and the fact that he was refusing to let her keep up her role as unofficial commander of Wendigo cut away at her love for him.
“Sabine,” he said, cupping her chin in his hand. “We both know the truth. I don’t know why you can’t say it, but can you at least admit it? Do you love me?”
Her cheeks grew warm and her lips stretched against his fingers in a smile. She did love him. When he was near, she felt calm in a way she never felt anywhere else, even when fighting. She belonged at his side, his queen. It was inevitable and she didn’t fear it like she always thought she would fear her engagement. She wanted to be married to him, but she couldn’t bring herself to say the words yet, to acknowledge her feelings. Then there would be no escape, and she was too good a fighter to lose her only escape until the last possible minute.
“Yes, Bertran. But I can’t- I’m just not ready to say it. When we’re married, then I’ll say it.”
“Thank you, darling,” he said.
His eyes were gentle and clear, fresh raindrops glistening in the sun. He leaned down to kiss her and she didn’t laugh. He was sincere this time, not forced or posed, and her belly fluttered. Why he wasn’t always spontaneous like this? Normally everything was so contrived, like he had written out what he was going to do in advance. He hadn’t always been like that, though, just since the engagement was formalized.
Perhaps, she thought as his cool, moist tongue slid into her mouth, perhaps there were rules governing his conduct now that they were engaged. Maybe he could only visit her at certain times and do certain things. She breathed through her nose and wondered how long it would be before he left. Sabine loved talking to him and debating with him, but the physical requirements of the relationship, as much as she enjoyed them, could get quite boring by comparison. She had just read the military history of his nation, Mammon, and was eager to ask questions about his army. Once he was finished making out with her, they could get to all sorts of exciting stuff. Her heart beat faster as she thought about what they might talk about and she could feel her body flushing almost as if getting ready for a fight.
Bertran was one of the few people who knew that she was Eve and she loved talking to him about military matters. He understood her as no one else did. He had forbidden her from being a part of the army and becoming Eve as part of the engagement agreement, but as long as she could talk to him about it, she no longer felt the need to sneak away. He was all she needed.
He must have mistaken her heavy breathing for desire because his smile was endearingly silly as he drew back and gazed at her.
“You’re too sweet, my darling,” he whispered, then tried to kiss her again.
Sabine turned her head and he kissed her cheek instead. She blushed.
“I wondered if we could talk,” she said.
“You don’t want to…” His voice trailed off as his eyes landed on the military books on her dresser and he must have realized why she had gotten excited. “I see. Well, we can talk later. This needs to be more than a friendship to work, you know. Marriage involves intimacy.”
He stroked her shoulder and she shivered, thinking of their age difference.
“But we can’t really do anything, that’s what everyone tells me. It would violate the engagement treaty.”
“Just until the marriage, sweetheart, and there are plenty of other things to do than sex.”
Hearing him say the word out loud sent Sabine into a fit of giggles. She was too nervous to be talking about this with him and she stood, longing to run away. But he grabbed her arm and forced her still.
“We need to talk about this. I know you’re young and inexperienced, but we are going to have a sexual relationship and I need to know that you’ll be ready for it. I don’t want to marry someone who doesn’t want me the way I want her.”
“You- want me?”
She knew he wanted her, of course; he told her frequently how beautiful and desirable she looked. But somehow she always dismissed it as compliments to his future wife indicating that he approved of her ability to hide her true self. She had never considered that he might find her true self appealing.
“Yes, I want you,” he said. His breath was husky and he leaned against her as he spoke. “I want to kiss you every day and every night. I want your eyes to light up when you think of me the way they do when you think of your military. I want your brilliant mind to be focused on me and nothing else, your thoughts to be turned towards me and no one else. I want your beautiful, calloused hands,” and he lifted a hand to his lips and kissed it. “And I want your honey skin and your emerald eyes and I want you to only quirk your brow at me when you’re annoyed, because I want to be the only one in your life who matters enough to annoy you.”
Sabine laughed. “You never annoy me. Dilan, on the other hand…”
“I want to matter more than him,” Bertran said quickly. “He shouldn’t be in your life anymore. He is your past, your childhood. A pleasant memory, one that you can revisit if you must, but not an active part of your life. I am your life now. Do you understand?”
Oddly, she didn’t feel offended by his possessive tone or the way he was ordering her to essentially abandon her only friend. She felt light and almost dizzy. Her lips tingled and he was wearing gloves again. When had he put them on? He was holding the rose against her lips again, and the petals were warm and soothing. It was hard to be upset about anything when the man you loved was presenting you with a rose. The rose smelled so strange, not at all like a rose should, rather like something acidic had been rubbed on the petals. He had said they weren’t real roses but this smelled different. But it was too hard to think of anything with him so near. She licked her lips and leaned against Bertran. He set the rose down carefully and kept away from her lips, instead kissing her on the head.
“Do you understand, sweetheart? You are mine now. Say you’ll marry me on your twentieth birthday in my nation.”
“Yes, Bertran,” she murmured. Why had she ever resisted him? She wanted to marry him as soon as possible. She leaned forward to quickly kiss him and was rewarded by a glowing smile. “I want to marry you as soon as possible.”